The Trans America Challenge 2018
27 May - 17 June 2018
MAY 26, 2018 - Charleston
Scrutineering Day - Welcome to Charleston, South Carolina.
Fresh from a bracing Flying Scotsman, and with the taste of single malt fading on our lips, today was the time to enjoy some sub tropical humidity and to acquaint ourselves with good old fashioned southern sipping whiskey.
Over the last few days, thirty three crews from all over the world have assembled in Charleston, the warm and welcoming capital of Southern Carolina. Yesterday they collected their cars, with the expert help of Melvyn Palmer and today, the countdown to the start line began in earnest.
The car park and lobby of the Dewberry Charleston hotel was full of these rally cars and their crews looking to complete the necessary formalities to begin the third Trans America Challenge.
The ERA Office Manager, Eleonora Piccolo was, as usual in charge of paperwork and all things official, whilst Andy Inskip and the sweep teams set about the parking lot (as it’s called here), with their years of experience, checking safety equipment and regulatory compliance. Sarah Ormerod meanwhile, our new Medic - fresh in from the Middle East - was on hand with band aids and aspirin for anyone who needed them.
There was a discernible buzz about the place and, to add to all of this excitement, outside of the hotel grounds, the upcoming Memorial Day celebrations saw thumping live music, a marching band and a fun fair, which served to amuse any of the crews who had some time on their hands.
The oldest car in the Rally is the 1927 Bentley of Bill and Julie Holroyd from the UK whilst the youngest is the 1979 Mercedes of Hudson and Mary Lee from Hong Kong and between these two bookends lies an impressive automotive gazetteer.
Most of the assembled crews have got more than a few miles under their wheels, but special mention must be made of Ed and Janet Howle, who are lined up with us for a third Trans America along with their trusty Beetle AKA Stewball, but more remarkably, this will be the seventh sea to sea crossing that the three of them have made together and the embroidered lumbar support cushion in the drivers seat says it all “the little engine that could”. Coincidentally, it also seems that today marks 80 years since the planned building of the “new” VW factory in Fallersleben, was announced by Hitler and that the car thereby produced, was going to be called the KDFwagen - “the strength through joy auto”. Not quite as catchy perhaps?
From the 1600cc of the little blue VW, it’s one giant leap to the 5670cc of Jim Gately’s Cadillac. He’s here for his maiden Trans America along with ace navigator Tony Brooks and Jim is on home ground for the first time. In common with a few of the other crews, he’s ostensibly shaking down for next years Peking to Paris, but the form book has them down as being highly fancied for the overall.
Sadly though, Stephen and Samantha Hardwick who came out of Africa as a winner of the Classic Safari, have been forced into a rental car even before the flag has dropped thanks to a run of bad luck with the preparation of their new Ford Falcon.
Manuel and Irene Dubs on the other hand, also winners in Cape Town, are hoping to put the disappointment of their retirement from the Road to Saigon behind them and get their faithful Ford Coupe all of the way to Seattle.
Most of the official business was concluded by lunchtime which left the afternoon free for crews to sample more of the delights of Charleston or if they felt the need, to join in a novice navigational training seminar with Gill Cotton before the official welcome dinner and briefing this evening.
Over a steaming bowl of seafood chowder, lamb and some excellent old world wines, Rally Director Fred Gallagher introduced the ERA team along with the Clerk of the Course, Mark Appleton and the co route designer, Steve McKelvie who expanded on the details and finer points of the rally and answered any questions.
Jamie Turner meanwhile crammed in a few sage words of advice about looking after the car and what to expect from the sweep crews.
As usual though there were a couple of notable absences, those of Paul Heal and Dick Appleton who, as usual are some 48 hours ahead of the game and, looking for trouble - and finding ways around it. Some of our old rally friends however had travelled to meet up and chew the fat and were happy to fill these empty seats. We were delighted to welcome the likes of Tony and Jill O’Connor and Tim Eades and Willie McNickle to the dinner.
Tomorrow, the flag finally drops on an epic three weeks and an incredible 5000 miles through the new world.